M&M put Lanka in driver's seat

Muralis magic, Malingas fire flatten Indians as hosts look to complete a crushing victory

M&M put Lanka in driver's seat

The brilliance of Muttiah Muralitharan (5/63) in the first innings and the incisiveness of Lasith Malinga in the second have all but cut out all escape routes for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men after a dramatic fourth day at the Galle International stadium.

Virender Sehwag’s 20th Test hundred couldn’t prevent India from slip-sliding to 276 in the first innings, Muralitharan’s 67th five-for in his final Test giving Sri Lanka a decisive 244-run lead on the first count.

Kumar Sangakkara had no hesitation in enforcing the follow on, and India showed greater heart through a stodgy third-wicket association between Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar before Malinga’s late-evening fire accounted for both maestros.

When Muralitharan grabbed wicket number 798 in the shape of Yuvraj Singh in fading light off what turned out to be the day’s last delivery, India had succumbed to 181 for five, needing 63 more to make Lanka bat again. It will take a massive batting effort, huge chunks of luck and more than the odd sharp spell of rain if India are to come away unscathed from this ordeal.

It was a day when little went right for the visitors. The morning was dotted by continued poor shot selection, Sehwag showing the way and VVS Laxman following suit, setting the stage for Muralitharan to step in and polish off the innings after a brief fightback from Yuvraj and Dhoni.

The afternoon was only marginally better, Gautam Gambhir falling for a first-over duck for the second time in two days, Sehwag succumbing to Chanaka Welegedara for the second time on Wednesday, and Dravid and Tendulkar failing to survive Malinga’s tailing inswingers after having shown characteristic gumption and poise for long periods.
India’s best chance of escaping with a draw had rested in their ability to prevent the follow on. When they resumed at 140 for three, the focus wasn’t so much on whether Sehwag would convert 85 into three-figures as on how many he and Laxman could piece together.

In the event, Sehwag fell not too long after bringing up his century, needlessly chasing a wide Welegedara delivery and putting up a simple catch to first slip. Laxman followed him to the hut minutes later to compound India’s misery. Softened up by a slow bouncer from Angelo Mathews that pinged him on the grill, the Hyderabadi hopefully wafted at Malinga and merely managed to put his pull up for deep backward square to complete a regulation catch.

Yuvraj looked in great touch and Dhoni played second fiddle to a nicety for over an hour as India refused to go on the defensive. Then, Muralitharan, introduced belatedly, got into the act.

A vicious off-spinner cleaned up Dhoni, bowled through the gate, while Yuvraj edged another off-break to slip, like he was to later in the evening. The rest was routine stuff for the legend, who became the first bowler to take 100 Test wickets against India.

Disastrous start
The visitors made another disastrous start on following on, Gambhir’s flashing blade putting Malinga in business straightaway. Sehwag continued to play his strokes with impunity through on-side and off, but one cut too many proved his undoing as Mahela Jayawardene grabbed an overhead stunner at gully.

United in another crisis, Dravid and Tendulkar were a study in concentration and contrast. The former was at his assured stonewalling best, while the latter was all authority, moving beautifully into his strokes and dissipating the pressure with fluent stroke-making to close in on a fifth hundred this calendar year.

The nerves had just been calmed when Sangakkara brought Malinga back, and the game turned on its head. Dravid failed to keep a flick down and was caught by the skipper at an unusual short square-leg, some five yards to the right of where he normally would be. Tendulkar missed a straight full toss and was pinged on the back leg palpably in front, followed by Yuvraj’s ill-timed dismissal in questionable light. All over, it appears, unless the rains of late Wednesday spill over to most of Thursday, too.

Scoreboard

SRI LANKA (I Innings): 520/8 decl.
INDIA (I Innings, O/n: 140/3):
Gambhir lbw Mendis    2
(2m, 2b)
Sehwag c P’vitana b W’gedara    109
(175m, 118b, 19x4, 1x6)
Dravid (run out)    18
(64m, 33b, 1x4)
Tendulkar lbw Muralitharan    8
(29m, 21b, 1x4)
Laxman c Dilshan b Malinga    22
(94m, 61b, 2x4)
Yuvraj c M J’rdene b M’tharan    52
(91m, 64b, 8x4, 1x6)
Dhoni b Muralitharan    33
(47b, 4x4)
H’bhajan st P J’wardene b Herath    2
(12m, 8b)
Ishant (not out)    5
(28m, 19b)
Ojha c M J’wardene b M’tharan    3
(17m, 17b)
Mithun b Muralitharan    8
(7m, 10b, 2x4)
Extras (B-1, LB-1, W-2, NB-10)    14
Total (all out, 65 overs)    276
Fall of wickets: 1-2 (Gambhir), 2-68 (Dravid), 3-101 (Tendulkar), 4-169 (Sehwag), 5-178 (Laxman), 6-252 (Dhoni), 7-259 (Yuvraj), 8-259 (Harbhajan), 9-266 (Ojha).
Bowling: Malinga 13-0-55-2 (nb-4), Welegedara 11-1-69-1 (w-1, nb-5), Herath 18-1-62-1 (nb-1), Mathews 5-0-19-0 (w-1), Muralitharan 17-1-63-5, Dilshan 1-0-6-0.
INDIA (II Innings):
Gambhir c P J’ardene b Malinga    0
(2m, 3b)
Sehwag c M J’ardene b W’gedara    31
(54m, 30b, 6x4)
Dravid c Sangakkara b Malinga    44
(209m, 152b, 3x4)
Tendulkar lbw Malinga    84
(168m, 142b, 11x4, 1x6)
Laxman (batting)    9
(35m, 20b, 1x4)
Yuvraj c M J’ardene b M’tharan    5
(23m, 14b, 1x4)
Extras (LB-3, W-1, NB-4)    8
Total (for 5 wkts, 59.3 overs)    181
Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Gambhir), 2-42 (Sehwag), 3-161 (Dravid), 4-172 (Tendulkar), 5-181 (Yuvraj).
Bowling: Malinga 9-2-33-3 (nb-2), Welegedara 6-1-26-1 (nb-1), Herath 14-2-27-0 (nb-1), Mathews 7-3-13-0 (w-1), Muralitharan 18.3-1-57-1, Dilshan 5-0-22-0.

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